First Published: The Call, Vol. 6, No. 25, June 27, 1977.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The past year has been one of record strikes and increased attacks on the labor movement, drawing many hundreds of thousands of workers into struggle against capitalist exploitation. In response, the capitalists have stepped up their attacks on the unions and have mobilized the reformist union misleaders to derail the workers’ struggle.
Communists in the October League initiated and led a labor campaign last December to provide leadership to the spontaneous movement and sever the workers from the influence of reformism and the hold of the reactionary union bureaucrats.
The campaign unfolded under the banners: “Build Class Struggle Unions!” and “Drive Out the Bureaucrats!” Its approach was to take advantage of the increased activity and interest aroused by union elections to do revolutionary education among the workers. The campaign called for exposing the bureaucrats as the bribed agents of the bosses, for the leadership of the revolutionary workers and reliance on the rank and file.
In auto, steel and mining, battles for the presidency of the union drew attention to the main issues on the minds of the workers. The election publicity also focused on the different styles and programs of the misleaders, especially liberals like Fraser, Ed Sadlowski and Arnold Miller.
These liberal misleaders did a slick job trying to make their reformist campaigns look like a real opposition to the old-guard trade unionists. They claimed to be against “business unionism” and for “workers’ rights,” covering their allegiance to the bosses with phony anti-company statements.
To drive home the importance of organizing the rank and file and exposing the lack of any “alternative” among the candidates, the campaign called for a boycott of the union elections. This was not a boycott of the union, but rather an intensification of the struggle in the union against the class collaboration of the misleaders. Hand-in-hand with the boycott, the campaign rallied the most class-conscious and active workers to run for local office, to become convention delegates and to turn the union meetings into forums for the rank and file.
The boycott of the steel election was aimed, in particular, at exposing Sadlowski and was carried out mainly through The Call and thousands of leaflets passed out at mills and polling places. The leaflet pointed out that “Sadlowski is no alternative” to the collaborationist rule of Abel. Neither have anything to offer the workers in their fight against the no-strike agreement, the racist Consent Decree, massive layoffs and deadly work conditions.
The campaign raised questions in the minds of thousands of steelworkers about Sadlowski’s bankrupt leadership and about reformism. Workers began to sum up their own experiences with Sadlowski in his home Midwest district. They leafleted, backed the boycott, and some have joined the Party.
The steel boycott drew a clear line between genuine communists and the opportunists who flocked to Sadlowski.
The revisionist Communist Party grabbed on to Sadlowski’s election campaign to secure positions for its members. Its own reformist program for the trade unions differs very little from Sadlowski’s, although the CP is diligently at work constructing a base for Soviet social-imperialism inside the U.S. labor movement.
The opportunist Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) also threw their forces behind the Sadlowski machine, arguing that it was the best way to “activate” the rank and file. This strategy of reliance on the liberal misleaders went hand-in-hand with their view that the workers aren’t ready for revolutionary ideas and leadership.
The auto campaign carried forward the same work of revolutionary education and exposure of the opportunists. Linking local officer and delegate elections to day-to-day struggles, communists built for the UAW convention demonstration May 15. In a dozen or more auto plants, slates of communists and other activists ran in delegate elections. In one UAW parts plant, one-third of all the votes went to a communist fighter.
The elections as well as union meetings were used to popularize a program of class struggle for the UAW, put out in the form of six resolutions. They summed up the workers’ demands around work conditions, the fight to end discrimination, to organize the unorganized, and to support the just struggles of oppressed peoples here and abroad against imperialism. More than 30,000 copies of the resolutions, published as a supplement to The Call, were distributed, and workers in other industries took up the points of these resolutions to write programs of their own.
The auto campaign provided many examples of how the fight for class struggle unions must be taken up as part of the day-today battles in the factories. In the Chicago Stanadyne strike and in the GM-Fremont wildcat, communists fought to broaden the strike issues, tying them to the campaign resolutions. At the same time, they exposed the union misleadership for their betrayal of the workers’ demands.
It was consistent day-to-day work in the plants which was the mainstay of the labor campaign, producing, as one very visible result, the militant demonstration of over 200 workers in front of the Los Angeles UAW convention. Representatives came from 15 locals as far as New York and Detroit to raise the banner for a class struggle UAW.
One of the main lessons learned in the campaign is that the on-going work in the plants is decisive and is the only sound basis upon which mass mobilizations can be built. Another important lesson is the need to carry out revolutionary education in close combination with the mass struggles of the people.
In some cases, communists tried to isolate and expose the union misleaders mainly by labeling them as traitors and collaborators, without leading the workers to draw this understanding out of their own experience.
The bureaucrats tried–sometimes successfully–to take advantage of these mistakes in tactics, launching red-baiting attacks to isolate the communists. All the major union publications under the control of the bureaucrats of the USWA, UAW and UMW openly attacked the October League and communism.
Advanced workers were attracted by the campaign’s revolutionary program, but in some cases communists failed to link the demands of this program to local struggles.
The task of building a class struggle union is an urgent one that requires the participation of hundreds of thousands of workers and the leadership of revolutionary and class-conscious fighters. Our tactics, therefore, must be aimed at uniting and involving the broad masses in the fight against capitalist exploitation. Out of this work, the spontaneous movement can be transformed into a conscious assault on the capitalist system and its spokesmen. In addition, the trade unions can be won to the fight for working-class power and socialism.
The labor campaign brought significant gains in this direction. Advanced workers were won to communism and the new Communist Party (M-L), while many others came forward as leaders of the labor movement. The campaign also helped to train these fighters, raising their political understanding of the need to overthrow imperialism and of the danger of reformism and revisionism.
The campaign served to deepen the fusion of Marxism-Leninism with the working-class movement, rooting the Party more firmly in the factories through nuclei and Call networks. Many worker correspondents took up The Call through this work also.
But the work of the campaign is far from over. Thousands of workers have been reached by The Call and by other revolutionary literature, but our work must expand to reach thousands more.
The working-class movement is on the rise and the interest of the workers in revolution is greater today than in many years.
Under the leadership of the new CP(M-L), communists must go deep among the masses, lead in developing class struggle programs and tactics for the labor movement, give guidance and consciousness to the spontaneous movement and, in the course of waging these struggles, unite the workers to drive out the capitalists’ labor lieutenants.